My grandmother is made from feathers, photo clippings and petrified wood. Keeps a cactus in my aunt’s house, bleeds dust in the door. My grandmother buried, she walks on all fours, long claws obscured in sand and in salt. Sharp painted fragments of blue bottle glass.
My grandmother painted, made paint from the land, needle pines and dirty streams. Sucked the blood from under an eel’s eye for red. Drained water from the earth for yellow pollens, scraped orange stone to flaking sand. Her painting in my parent’s house, a vase a bulb of flowers. I always found a face inside, a bald man in a dress and kid gloves. I watched him each day as I walked the steps. The flower man was always silent, somehow proud in his blooming skin.
I was called a faggot first when I was four, an older child watched me as I walked. Told no one, remembered some years later as the word left my grandfather’s mouth. Before he died I drew him circuits on napkins, traced his fingers down the outlines where current would flow. In that moment, perhaps he saw a man. In a 1986 interview with a local newspaper, my grandmother said she only painted women.
My grandmother’s house at the center of the desert. Water and growing she sucked from the ground, empty sand and scraps of paint. I walk for days in my grandmother’s desert, eat lizards when I stop, suck red from their bodies when my water runs out. To catch them I bury myself in the sand, lure them with stillness and basking warmth. At night I follow my grandmother’s tracks. She watches me, follows, she clicks her claws together. I walk faster when I hear her, run from red in the dark, follow her footprints always as I go.
My father keeps three grandmother photos. One black and white: her on a bench, smoking. One black and white: young and a headshot, hair cropped short and grass in behind. The last is in color, eyes behind red. In color, I like to imagine her green. I do not ask my father, watch my own eyes in the mirror. I clutch the sink and I hold on.
My aunt does not speak of her, makes pot roast from her recipe, orange gravy spread on top. Carrots and soup mix and things I cannot see in a blender before the meat. It is a strange dish, watery and sweet. My grandfather tried to cook it when I was small, but always left the meat raw. Knew chemistry but not how hot those carbon bonds broke down. So many things I taught myself but how to cook hurt most.
My grandmother pieced from tissue paper. My grandmother pieced from salted glass. My grandmother in my father’s voice, whispered downstairs when he thinks I am asleep. How she would leave for days without a word, my father’s meals a bowl of shriveled raisins. My grandmother drinking my grandmother howling my grandmother pacing my grandmother gone.
A thanksgiving: I stand in the doorframe of two rooms. My uncles sit and drink in one. In the other, my aunt has broken glass, soaked her clothes with boiling water. The other aunts have pulled a chair for her, rubbed mustard on her legs. I wonder who told them how to fight a burn. How fast they worked how fast they filled the space. They leave to take her up to bed, they leave the kitchen empty. I sweep the glass shards off the floor.
A vacuum, a gap can be filled by a ghost, spaced molecules, gas, by a trail of thin smoke. How else to build a bridge but by invention? My grandmother tiled her bathroom with shells, rocks with white stripes and a fish carved from glass. I follow the shape of the fish with my finger, sit on the tile floor and breath, run the water until I hear voices at the door.
My grandmother’s house in the center of the desert. Broken blue windows and bird bones inside. Claw marks on the doorknob, shed down on the floor. Slashed pillows, I think as the sun beats down. I sit on the floor and wait but she doesn’t come. There is howling in the basement, the shriek of dying lizards. My hand along the pine, and later on the oak.
My grandmother’s studio, splintering floors. My grandmother shredded in newspaper clippings, soft desert snow on splintered ply. Canvases spread and slashed, old women walking the street in red squares. Flowers spread on canvas where women should be. I stack these in a corner, bury them in paper, snapped brushes and fallen sawdust. I dig to the floor and find it whole, wood cheap but unmarked, no furrows for her claws. A checklist as I walk about the room. My grandmother in splattered paint, my grandmother in sun. My grandmother in splinters, in burns and broken nails. On the stairs there is a creak, another, and I close my eyes, imagine her crazy and chip-toothed like me, hold her fish of glass steady in my mind, her eyes the way I want them. My grandmother at the top of the stairs, in breath and air and creaking wood. I turn to face the doorway. In a moment I will see her, look down from shaky bridges, the blue around the pupils in the center her eyes.
Jenny Fried is a writer living in Virginia. Her work has appeared previously in Wigleaf, X‑R-A‑Y, Cheap Pop, and other magazines. Find her online here.